Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ACL Diary: The Long and Short of It

Six months. It’s a time period that normally flies by. And the six months that have elapsed since Willow’s ACL injury have, indeed, roared by with all the speed, sound and intensity of an F-16.

In retrospect, however, it feels as though it’s been the longest six months of my life as I’ve lived vicariously through—and paid for—the medical bills of my first-born, 16 year-old child.  The last three weeks, in particular, have been especially challenging.

Dr. Tucker's thumbs up
Willow’s surgeon and physical therapist officially cleared her to play soccer three weeks ago. Those were happy appointments, and as a result, she showed up on the soccer field ready to go. She, however, was met with equal doses of congratulations and welcome back, side-by-side with skepticism and apprehension.  Her club team, which picked up several talented players over the summer, had been doing just fine—excellent, in fact, in her absence.

Some apprehension may have come from her teammates, but it was also palpable from the one person for whom it counted: Willow.

And who could blame her? Anyone who has suffered this injury will tell you that after the successful surgery and rehab, it is—more than anything—an emotional experience.

Players/patients ask themselves: Will I be good enough? Will I be fast enough? Will I be strong enough? WILL I BE THE PLAYER I WAS???

On September 21, 2011, Willow was cleared to play, but only in practice. Competitive play in a game situation would be limited for “two-to-three weeks.” Then they wanted her back “full-on.” Take a few baby steps, they said, and then jump into the deep end of the pool. They assured us her knee was strong and it was all about her commitment to return. From the beginning, they treated her as a Level 1 athlete and all decisions—from her type of surgery to her rehab protocol—were based on getting her back on the field as soon as possible.

Given that Willow has been a textbook kid since the day she was born (on her due date with high APGAR and not a spot or stork bite to be found), she had the track record on which to base her good health. She proved it, once again, by working very hard at recovery and physical therapy, and even impressively restrained herself at various activities when she wanted desperately to forge ahead.

Coach Walter
Willow has been very lucky to have understanding and supportive trainers and coaches. Walter, her head coach, for example, is a man who loves and treats each girl on his team as though she is his daughter. For example, last spring on the day Willow was injured, I witnessed his immediate reaction. Coach first, he stood up and THREW his hat to the ground. Parent second, he could hardly watch as a team dad and an assistant coach carried her from the field. Walter knew, in the midst of his State Cup challenge that he was losing one of his key defenders, and displayed on his face during those minutes was the special language of love, fear, disappointment, and COACHING, that few possess and/or comprehend.

Coach Kate
God bless Walter, he saved a roster spot for Willow, and consistently checked in with us over the past six months to monitor her progress.  This is what a good coach does. And when you have a coach who believes in your kid, even an injury as serious as ACL is bearable.

In addition, this season’s new assistant coach, Kate, is a young woman who has also undergone knee surgery, and she knows as well as anyone what it takes to get back on the field after this experience. From day one of Willow’s clearance, she’s been an empathetic ally, and has monitored Willow’s progress/return.

Willow last weekend
Empathy is important; however, it’s only one aspect of assisting your child with full-on recovery. And trust me, hard as it was for Willow to sit on the bench watching her teammates play over the past three weeks, it wasn’t easy for us either.

This past weekend at a soccer tournament in Scottsdale, however, Walter threw Willow, #24, into the deep end of the pool and kept her in that first game for sixty minutes.

They were, without a doubt, the longest sixty minutes of soccer I’ve ever watched.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

ACL Diary: From The Sidelines

Willow’s team is back in action and playing very well. Undefeated in their last six games, over Labor Day weekend in San Diego they earned a tournament championship and then won their first state league game of the season. Last night playing in the U-18 age group (a year up), they tied the current 1994 age group state champions in the TSA tournament.

Willow watched it from the sidelines.

Willow, in navy blue, watches with teammates

Our friend, Betsy Blackwood, who had her ACL reconstructed by the same surgeon as Willow, warned us that the hardest part about recovery is sitting on the bench while your teammates play—especially when they’re kicking butt without you. And that’s definitely true. But I gotta hand it to Willow, as she gets closer to the magical day on the calendar and her next appointment with Dr. Tucker, she handles it very well and truly supports her team.

Betsy Blackwood as an UALR Trojan
She’s been attending practices for several weeks; however, she can only warm-up with them. When they start drills, she puts on her running shoes and runs laps around the fields. Still in physical therapy twice a week, she continues to get stronger and stronger and has a goal to come back stronger than ever. We anticipate clearance for playing soccer to come very soon.

As for Betsy, she’s back on the soccer field with a scholarship at University of Arkansas, Little Rock. And from what I understand, she’s once again kicking butt!

Willow and Olivia show off their repairs
Willow’s other ACL buddy, Olivia Ortiz, a teammate for years, is also back in action after ACL reconstruction and she and her current teammates won their game in the TSA Tournament last night 2-1. 

(BTW: Livvy, we still have your ice machine and plan to return it; however, today I spoke with another former teammate of Willow’s who is undergoing ACL surgery in October, and I wonder if you’d allow us to loan it to her??)

Meanwhile, we are truly grateful for the support, empathy and inspiration Betsy and Olivia have given us throughout this process, and as we watch from the sidelines, it’s really good to know that there is indeed soccer after ACL surgery.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Not In My Backyard

There are people who are supposed to be in my backyard. And then there are people who should not be there. By owning a resort on 45-acres of property with a sign on the main road directing traffic to it, I’m accustomed to keeping my eye on all who enter. Each time I spy a body, I ask myself, do they belong—i.e. are they registered guests? Are they visitors? Customers? Potential guests?

Or, are they trespassers?

We get our fair share of trespassers at Sandy Point Resort, particularly on hot summer days when the beach looks very inviting. Often I have neighbors call and ask if they or their kids can use our beach, and I explain that our facilities are for registered guests only. Mostly they understand—occasionally they are incredulous at my denial—and sometimes they don’t even bother to ask. They just show up with their beach towels.

Regardless, count “policing the property” one of many jobs of the resort owner.

I didn’t expect that to be part of my job in Tucson, however. But the other day I had a Halt-Who-Goes-There-Moment, and I’m still very uncomfortable about the whole thing and would appreciate some advice. Here’s what happened:

While working at my desk, which is located next to an enormous, blind-shaded picture window, I sensed movement—a body walking by. It was Friday around noon, so my first thought was that it was the pool lady. But I dismissed the idea because this was nowhere near the pool, or the gate she normally uses each Friday. So, I turned to the window and door behind me, and as the body rounded the corner I saw that it was no lady—pool or otherwise.

It was a very tall young man who was wearing nothing but green swim trunks and a pair of suede slippers. At a swift pace, he was moving toward the gate.

My instincts took over and I opened the door behind me, stepped outside and yelled, “Hey! What are you doing here?”

The green giant with wide-set eyes and close-cropped hair froze at the gate. “I heard a loud noise, ma’am—a bang—and I was just checking it out,” he said quickly. There was a hint of a southern accent.

“What?!” That made no sense to me. “Where?”

He reached across his tan, bare chest with his left arm and pointed to our guesthouse. “Right there,” he said.

I didn’t look in the direction he had pointed because my eyes already spied the red and yellow painted glass pipe and red Bic lighter in his right hand. I narrowed my eyes and seethed.

“Have you been smoking dope in my yard?”

“No, ma’am. No!” He cried. “I was over there in the abandoned house. He made a swirling motion.

“Right. Like I believe that,” I said with a scoff. “Listen to me, I know who you are.” And I called him by name.

“No! That’s not my name. That’s not me,” he said.

“Then what is your name?”

He gave me an alias—a name I’d never heard and frankly don’t remember. It didn’t matter to me. I knew who he was and am aware of his reputation. “Listen you,” I said, “get out of here right now and don’t come back. If I catch you here again, I’m calling the cops.”

“Yes, ma’am!” And then the half naked intruder on slipper-clad feet, fled into the desert. I exhaled with disgust, slammed the gate for effect and went back inside.

But it didn’t end there. Immediately I spotted him once again! He was in my backyard and dodging under the ramada of the guesthouse.

Now that really pissed me off. Not only did he lie to me about who he was, I had told him not to come back, and yet he was back in less than a minute. So, this time I went out a different door and yelled at him again.

“Hey! What did I say?”

He reached down and grabbed a dark blue shirt, pivoted and made his way back to the five-foot stucco wall near our pool equipment. As he scaled the wall, hurling his long limbs over the top, he called over his shoulder, “I’m sorry, Miss, I just needed to get my shit!”

Stunned, I stood there for a moment recalling the day I chased away a coyote from our yard who, moments earlier, had had my five-pound chihuahua in its mouth, and it dawned on me that this time, he had called me “Miss” rather than “Ma’am.”

I went inside and called 9-1-1.

By the time the sheriff arrived, the stoner slipper-boy was, of course, long gone. I gave the sheriff his name and said he had denied that’s who he was. And since I’ve had virtually no prior interaction with this kid, I wasn’t 100% sure my identification was correct.

But then I checked Facebook, and I tell you, it was like looking at a mug shot.

Now I am 100% certain that I know who it was smoking in my yard and most likely, about to go for a swim. Also, our suspicions as to the responsible party for leaving a half a case of beer bottles and bottle tops littered on the grounds and just outside the gate before we returned from Wisconsin have been greatly narrowed.

I’m not sure what my next step will be or should be, but I’m open to suggestion.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Long Hot Summer Recovery Process

Bruce Valentine working with Willow in June
According to Tucson’s best and Willow’s favorite physical therapist, John Woolf, Willow is rockin’ it as she recovers from her ACL replacement surgery. Because of her hard work over the summer in Wisconsin with two different physical therapists, a certified trainer and a sports medicine physician, AND her good-girl behavior (staying off the waterski / wakeboard and not running), she’s right on schedule to get back to soccer.

Upon returning to Tucson in early August, she saw her surgeon, Dr. Tucker, and he cleared her to begin straight-line running. She had aspirations to return to the Sabino x-country team; however, that was a “no,” due to the uneven surfaces inherent to the sport. She has attended a few club soccer practices, but can’t yet do much with the team.

It was tough not being one of the girls at their level, but she was happy to see everyone and hopes to reestablish those tight bonds. This afternoon we’re looking forward to watching a scrimmage between her team and the UofA club team.

So now that the flex and extension are there, the weight and strength have returned, it’s time to focus on getting back in condition. That’s a little tough while Tucson is experiencing record high temperatures (we’re talking about 109°--and it’s muggy!). Willow works out with her therapist twice a week, however, she needs to get on the track and we’d like to have her up-to-speed by her next surgical appointment, which is exactly five months from the date of surgery: September 21. At this time Dr. Tucker expects to clear her for soccer.

“I won’t be able to play at the high-impact level I was at before,” said Willow. “Yet.”

But at least she’ll be out there. And with her sense of determination, soon the big blonde girl known as “The Bruiser” will be back. 

Please keep all your fingers, toes and knee ligaments crossed.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

ACL Diary: The Art of Scar

April 23, 2011: In stitches

Using the bandage collection

June 1, 2011

June 26, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

ACL Diary: Fishy Business

We’ve moved from the desert to the lake—something we do as a family each summer. What this means for Willow is that she had to take temporary leave from her trusted physical therapist, John Woolf, and set up a program here in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

Willow in a younger day
Luckily, we had connections. In advance of her surgery, we contacted a sports medicine physician who owns/operates a wellness clinic located about a mile from where Willow was born, who she had trained with last summer. He gave us advice regarding the type of surgery she should have, and was the key to our choice of hamstring replacement. 

Dr. Mullen of Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic saw Willow within days of our return and assessed her situation. He spent a lot of time loosening her knee, assuring her recovery was forthcoming, but also stressing that there would be “no shortcuts.” He immediately scheduled a session with his head physical therapist and she’s been returning to the clinic twice per week through the month of June seeing another therapist on staff.

Willow drives herself into town—about a 16-mile drive—so I haven’t been witness to her therapy appointments. She’s had a mixed response. Some days she feels her therapist isn’t working her hard enough and other days, she claims to have had a good workout. It’s unfortunate that this is her P-T’s first ACL recovery patient and I have a feeling Willow is teaching her as much as she’s teaching Willow.

In addition to her daily exercises, Dr. Mullen suggested she take a daily dose of fish oil—which she HATES, and claims does nothing for her.  I understand why she thinks this because the oral medications she’s taken to date have been Advil for head and body aches and, of course, Percocet for the pain after surgery. Swallowing these pills gave her results she could wrap her brain around. Even the Flinstone’s chewable and Gummy Bear vitamins she took as a young child provided the sweet bonus of sugar.

These fish oil capsules, however, just piss her off.

Swallowing something the size of a pinky toe that smells like the newspaper-wrapped scrap coming out of our fish-cleaning hut each week is NOT something she’ll do without prompting. And who knows what they’re really doing for her? As a rule, I am skeptical and cautious of dietary supplements and anyone who knows about our educational campaign, HerBeware, knows why. So trust, I’ve done a bit of research.

Fish oil is a source of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are considered essential for human health and play a role in brain function and normal growth and development. They are obtained through foods—more specifically through fish. The herb industry’s selling points for fish oil (and, of course, this hasn’t been evaluated by the FDA) is that Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer. In addition, they are thought to help reduce the risk of arthritis, which is the key to Dr. Mullen’s recommendation. According to Dr. Scott Tashman of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, arthritis is a common long-term affliction for 60-80 percent of ACL patients.

Albeit reluctantly and only when I remember to serve it to her, Willow’s been taking fish oil tablets over the past four weeks. So far she’s shown no negative side effects of taking the supplement (difficulty breathing, hives, bruising, facial/facial area swelling). So my goal—as it’s been all along—is to get her to focus on the positive side effects of her recovery process.

She doesn’t appreciate it today; however, she may by the time she’s 30.

Meanwhile, it’s another beautiful day at the lake. I think I’ll go find Willow somewhere on the grounds, serve up a softgel, and then we’ll spend a little time fishing.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

ACL Diary: Let’s Get Physical

When Willow started driving, no one was happier about it than I. Primarily it meant that after 11 years, I no longer had to drive a carpool filled with smelly shin guards and crusty socks to and from soccer practice.

A month later she tore her ACL, and after surgery, I was back to being her chauffeur. I wasn’t taking her to soccer practice twice a week, however. I was taking her to physical therapy.

We chose John Woolf of ProActive Physical Therapy, as he came highly recommended by our surgeon, Dr. Tucker, as well as by trusted and knowledgeable friends.

“Talk to my husband,” said my good pal and fellow soccer mom, Stephanie Hunley, when I asked her if she had a therapist to recommend. “He’s got people.”

LaMonte Hunley, one of the men who carried Willow off the field on that dreadful day, is a low-key, yet loyal soccer dad. A former NFL player with the Indianapolis Colts and a U of A Wildcat, he doesn’t say much to or about the girls and the game, but when he does make a comment, in my never-humble opinion, he’s always spot on with his observations.

LaMonte Hunley
In addition to LaMonte’s credentials as a professional athlete, he’s an active businessman in the Tucson community. As co-owner of Arizona Health, which specializes in residential and commercial exercise equipment, he definitely knows people. So, when it came time to pick a local physical therapist for Willow’s immediate needs, without hesitation, I went to LaMonte.

“Woolf,” he said, almost like a bark.

“Did you say wolf? Like the canis species? A howling, doglike wolf?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said LaMonte. “He’s the one. Used to be the trainer at the U of A.”

I immediately looked up Mr. Woolf and discovered he’s the former Director of Sports Medicine for The University of Arizona where he coordinated rehabilitation and medical coverage for division I athletes. Today he is the owner of ProActive Physical Therapy, located about a half hour from our eastside home. And it turned out, he was available to see Willow twice a week for the remainder of her time in Tucson this Spring.

John Woolf
Prior to meeting him, Willow’s friend, Anna, a teammate who has been back on the soccer field for over a year after ACL reconstruction surgery, told her that John was her physical therapist, too. And she said in no uncertain terms that he was “the best.”

“He deals with what’s up here,” she said pointing to her temple,” As well as what’s down here.” And she pointed to her knee.

I didn’t fully grasp what Anna meant until I watched John in action. My view from a very different sideline made me believe from the first session that we had chosen the right physical therapist for Willow. He not only brings excellent credentials and experience to the rehab table, but he’s also the father of a teenage girl.

“What color is the pain?” he asked Willow. “And what shape does it have?” As he worked with her knee, he asked a series of questions like this that obviously had a positive affect on Willow. Nevertheless, I think he had her at hello.

And so, I adjusted my driving route and my routine, and found that being at physical therapy during those first few sessions wasn’t that much different than being at soccer practice. My daughter was involved in an activity while I engaged in conversation with one of my long-time friends and fellow soccer mom, whose daughter was also working out with her therapist after ACL reconstruction surgery. (In the circle in which we travel, ACL tears are a BIG injury in a SMALL town).

I had only just begun to grasp the depth of the emotional impact of this injury, and will write more about that soon. But after a little more than two weeks post-op, when Willow begged me to let her drive again, I was nervous about letting her and therefore, reluctant. 

Ultimately I hoped that in conjunction with the physical therapy, a little motor vehicle therapy might go a long way in healing her hurt that day. Therefore, I handed her the keys and watched as her face lit up with a smile I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

“Score!” she said and practically skipped out the door.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

ACL Diary: Embrace the Brace

Warning: Contains foul language
At Willow’s pre-op appointment with Dr. Tucker, one of his assistants fitted her for the brace that would become a big part of her support system for the first stage of her post-op experience.

It’s an uncomplicated device made partly of Velcro and plastic, but primarily of black, foamy material, on a par with a 7mm wetsuit, yet not quite as dense. Fitting her took less than five minutes. “How tall are you?” they asked. From there it was as easy as one, two, three.

Two minutes later, a nurse came into the exam room and told us our insurance didn’t cover the cost of the brace—for some reason she may as well have stated in Mandarin for as much sense as it made to me. “It’s unfortunate,” she said, “because the price on this is $915.


The DonJoy IROM brace may be the Cadillac of post-operative knee braces, but come on! Of course, I realized this was an exorbitant markup and later, I went online to do a little research about these braces. Not one came close to the nine-hundred dollar mark. WTF?

It only took one “you gotta be kidding me,” comment said loudly enough for everyone in the building to hear, when someone suggested we use the self-pay option instead of dealing with the insurance company. “If you self-pay, the price goes down to $150.” Again, WTF?

After I tried to swallow this unbelievable discrepancy in price, I hobbled out of the office along side my injured daughter and, for about thirty seconds, allowed myself (for the first time) to actually think about what this ordeal was going to cost our family.

Lest this become a rant about the cost of health care in this country OR the fucked up insurance industry all of us who (think we) can afford health insurance has to deal with, I’ll get back to my original theme and EMBRACE the experience for what it is.

ACL buddies: Willow, showing off her brace; 
Shelley, showing off her healing wounds

Our daughter was injured, and no matter what it takes, we’re going to do what we can to heal her. (I reserve the right to freak out a little when the bills start coming in). Meanwhile, I still haven’t received the bill for the brace and don’t know if I’ll be charged a hundred-something bucks or nine times that amount for a device that is now stashed in a storage closet, hopefully, never to be seen or heard from again.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

ACL Diary: The Ugly, The Bad and The Good

Willow’s dad—the true videographer in the family—was out of town during the game when she tore her ACL. This is why I was behind the camera.

I was recording for two reasons. One, so her dad could watch the game later, and two, because I was putting together college recruitment videos for Willow and another girl on the team, and I was hungry for highlights. Instead, however, I captured what can only be called a career lowlight.

There was nothing pretty about watching through the focused lens of the camera as my daughter collapsed. My immediate reaction, captured on the audio, was to distinctly breathe out my go-to ugly word: “shit.”

So, this whole ordeal—in spite of her good play leading up to this day—started with the ugly.

It’s obvious that Willow is a very pretty young woman; however, she was also a beautiful baby. At birth, this 6 lb. 12 oz newborn didn’t have a single mark on her body. No freckles, moles, spots or storkbites. We searched for birthmarks of any kind and found none. That’s changed, of course, over the past 16 years and I, for one, know that she has earned every spot, scar, nick and bruise. A majority of these marks, including the substantial slide strawberries on each hip, have come from soccer.

Three days after the ACL replacement surgery, we held our breath as we removed Willow’s dressings. Bracing ourselves for the big reveal—once we exposed her naked knee and laid eyes upon all the little patches of royal blue stitches marking the procedure, we didn’t know whether to crinkle our noses and utter a series of “ewwwwwwwwwwws,” OR purse our lips and say, “well, this isn’t so bad.”

The bad part, aside from the fact that it happened, was the timing of the surgery. Initially we thought it was good in that it coincided with Willow’s Spring break, however, it just so happened we had company at this time—planned long in advance—and our house was like a circus with non-stop commotion. Willow was so drugged out at first, that she didn’t notice; however, on Good Friday, the day after her surgery, she tried to join us for the annual Easter ritual of dying eggs.

Poor kid, she lasted only long enough to dip one egg in the blue dye before the clamor of the room was too much for her and she had to crutch her way back to her room.

Suffice it to say, one can usually find a way to express that the timing of an injury like this is just plain bad. It’s so distruptive to immediate and even longer-term plans. We cancelled our team’s participation in a college showcase event and we had to cancel soccer camp in July. There went that deposit up in smoke. An injury requiring months of rehab makes priorities change whether you like it or not.

Aah, but there was good. The good that came from the days following surgery was primarily from Willow’s BFF, Megan. She truly showed what a good friend she is. Megan and I were in touch via text from the moment Willow was in the recovery room, and once she knew we were on our way home, she wasted no time in getting to Willow’s bedside.

She remained there for most of their Spring break.

We already considered this darling young woman a part of our family; however, during this chaotic time, Megan added to the laughter in the room. She helped us eat our leftovers and dye our Easter eggs. She assisted Willow in every way she could, including putting on her bathing suit and getting Willow through her first traumatic shower on Saturday, which was shortly after we removed the bandages.

Megan wasn’t the only friend who showed her true colors at this time. Many, many friends and moms and members of Willow’s team came by with cards, balloons, candy, ice cream (lemon sorbet!) Easter baskets, Purple Heart proclamations, and poetry (in the form of rap—you KNOW who you are MAC), an ice machine, and a truckload of moral support. They held her hand, patted her head, kissed her cheek and offered their smiles. They made her laugh, and they made her feel very loved.

It was a pretty extreme way to find out who her good friends are; however, we know Willow was as grateful for the company and well wishes, as we were for the distractions to what we’d all just experienced.

Thanks everyone. You’re good friends and we love you.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

ACL Diary: Clearing Hurdles

The Surgery Itself
Willow’s ACL tear happened during the first game of the 2011 AZ State Cup, which is the last tournament of the season, and the most important in terms of establishing team ranking. She was also in the midst of her school track season and had just posted her best time, three seconds off the previous week. Her event? 300 Hurdles.

Little did she figure on a whole new set of hurdles ahead of her that would cover a span of months rather than yards.

Clearing the hurdle over selecting what type of ACL reconstruction surgery to have, the next hurdle was scheduling the procedure. Dr. Todd Tucker, who we believe is the surgeon of choice for hamstring replacement in Tucson, had an opening on April 21. This was Willow’s first day of Spring Break, and at first we thought it was good timing, considering she’d miss fewer days of school.

Willow is a serious student, enrolled in demanding classes. Missing school might be considered a bonus to some kids; however, to Willow, who ultimately only missed two days, finding time for makeup work (particularly lengthy trigonometry problems) was an additional stressor we didn’t foresee. It nagged at me that we possibly should have waited until the school year ended; however, given our back-and-forth lifestyle (Tucson-Wisconsin-Tucson-Wisconsin-Tucson-Wisconsin) we decided to have the surgery here in Tucson—rather than during the midst of our busy season at Sandy Point Resort. Plus, Dr. Tucker wanted at least 4-5 weeks to monitor Willow’s initial post-surgery progress.

So, with an ETD for Wisconsin of May 26, we counted weeks on our fingers, and scheduled the date--April 21.

Mike and I were as worried as any parents of a child undergoing general anesthesia and the knife. Willow, on the other hand, was resolved. She may have simply believed that the sooner she had the surgery, the sooner she’d get back on the field. We were blessed to have a good friend, Karen Schwartz—aka KK—as her intake nurse at the Tucson Surgery Center. Her high beam smile and natural warmth eased us into the process.

KK and Wills in the recovery room

As she and the anesthesiologist prepped Willow, Dr. Tucker told us to expect the surgery to take 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours. He, of course, knew what to expect with the ACL, but he wasn’t certain about the meniscus. Since 50% of these injuries tend to also include meniscus damage, and the MRI wasn’t definitive, he wouldn’t know until he got in there. His plan was to repair the meniscus if necessary, or remove any damage if determined to be insignificant.

Granted, 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours wasn’t a large stretch of time in the waiting room, but timing is everything when running hurdles. One needs to know when to expect the next jump—right down to the millisecond.

I passed the time doing the Thursday Merl Reagle crossword and the Suduko puzzles in the AZ Star, while Mike went to Starbucks for his nineteenth nervous non-fat latte.

And then, merely an hour after we watched Willow wheeled away, Dr. Tucker came into the waiting room. He spotted us at once and a smile filled his face.

All I can say is that at this moment, our hearts leapt.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

ACL Diary: Pain and Percocet

“Has it really been less than three weeks?”
On the news this morning, I heard that it’s been three weeks since Holly Bobo, the nursing student from Tennessee, was abducted in her front yard. These periodic abduction stories tend to upset my husband and cause him to worry about the safety of his own daughters.

But this one, the story of Holly Bobo, really got to him.

I’m not sure if it was because Holly’s blonde and beautiful (and bears a resemblance to Willow), or if it was more about the timing of the incident and how it coincided with fears over Willow’s pending surgery.

What I am sure of is how it seems like we first heard about Holly’s abduction a long time ago. Has it really only been three weeks? And are we really only just shy of three weeks since Willow’s surgery?



I’m sitting here wondering, how is it this school year has flown by so quickly and yet, the last few weeks have dragged on and on? It hasn’t been about an empty calendar—on the contrary—nor has it been due to any lack of drama. Since Willow’s injury on April 2, our drama content has been on steroids.

Scratch that. Our drama has been on Percocet.

I’ve never taken a Percocet, so I have no clue about how they make one feel. When they were prescribed for our daughter’s pain I asked our nurse, Karen Schwartz (who happens to be a good friend), about the purpose of these pills. “Is this the kind of medicine that actually goes to and stops the pain, or is it just something that zones you out and makes you not care so much about it?”

“It goes to the pain,” Karen said emphatically.

So, I filled the scrip, created a time and dosage chart, and issued these pills to my child every three-to-four hours for the first two days. I kept her good and loopy while a parade of friends came by to see her during what were the first two days of their spring break.

Willow hardly remembers the specifics of anything of what she said or did for at least 24 hours after the surgery. But trust me, she was darn funny. We were told she’d start feeling better by day three, and this was when she could remove the dressings and take a shower. This is also when we decreased the dosage, and then proceeded to stretch out the hours between administering pills.

And now here we are 16 days post surgery—16 days that feel like 16 weeks—and Willow now resorts more to the ice machine and Advil to deal with the pain. We still have several precious Percocet pills, but save them for the hour before she goes to her physical therapy appointments.

In other words, we’re no longer charting the days in terms of hours and pain pills. And because of this, perhaps time will once again go speeding by, and we’ll be that much closer to Willow’s complete recovery.

P.S. To Holly’s family: We are so sorry this has happened. We keep you all in our thoughts, and pray for her safe return to you.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

ACL Diary: Patellar? Hamstring?

“Go With Your Gut”
The first thing we learned is that shredded ACL ligaments cannot be repaired. They may, however, be reconstructed. It wasn’t until we saw the MRI images and our surgeon pointed out the barely visible frayed remains of Willow’s ACL, that we truly understood.

Options for ACL reconstruction surgery presented to us were:

Given Willow’s desire to return to competitive soccer, Dr. Tucker ruled out allograft, indicating it was not the strongest option. He then explained the patellar and hamstring tendon techniques, citing both as viable options, and listed the advantages and disadvantages attributed to each.

So then it was left to us to decide. And this is what occupied my brain for the next several days:
Patellar? Hamstring?
Patellar? Hamstring?
Patellar? Hamstring?
Patellar? Hamstring?
Patellar? Hamstring?
Patellar? Hamstring?

Two friends here in Tucson, both nurses, have daughters who had been Willow’s teammates in the past, and had torn their ACLs. When they learned of Willow’s injury, they made a point of contacting me to offer advice, opinions and especially moral support. In fact, they both said to me—one through email and one on the phone—“I know EXACTLY what you’re going through.” Even though I didn’t realize I’d soon become a bona fide ACL reconstruction procedure “expert” on a par with them, they made it immediately apparent that both my daughter and I would survive this ordeal.

District Champion Bobcats, Cass and Wills, 2009

Like Dr. Tucker, these fellow soccer moms discussed the options available to us and didn’t necessarily recommend one procedure over another. Of course they shared the methods they chose, which included both patellar and allograft, but they encouraged me to do my own research, and go with my gut.

The nurses weren’t the only soccer moms and/or dads who contacted me. Parents of other teammates—past and present—who have faced this, and friends from high school and other former lives offered empathy and information.

As my source list grew, so did my research folder.

In short, my research showed that even though the patellar surgery was once considered the gold standard, with recent improvements to the hamstring technique, it’s close to impossible to find anything or anyone that can or will objectively recommend one procedure over the other as being “better.”

95 Rush Team, 2006-07 . . . Four Future Knee Surgeries

Even after factoring in gender and body type, ultimately our choice became an exercise in choosing among the DISADVANTAGES.

With the patellar what stood out was the potential for long-term frontal knee pain and the possibility of future patellar fracture/injury; and with the hamstring we understood a risk of the tendon stretching and thereby causing re-injury.

It wasn’t long before I threw my hands in the air and prayed out loud for someone to “tell me what to do!”

And then, someone did.

I phoned a Sports Medicine physician in Wisconsin, Dr. James Mullen with Premier Physical Medicine and Wellness Clinic, to tell him about the injury. (Willow trained with him in a speed and agility course all last summer). Dr. Mullen is a six-time member of the U.S. National Speed Skating Team and an inductee of the Wisconsin Soccer Association Hall of Fame.  He also has multiple top 200 American Birkebeiner finishes (x-country skiing marathon) and still actively races.

When I told Dr. Mullen about Willow’s injury, he couldn’t help but express his disappointment given that last summer’s training was all about ACL injury prevention (ugh!) And before I even asked his opinion regarding the procedures, he advised us to go with the hamstring replacement for Willow.

“Hamstring has gotten a bad rap in the past,” he said, “but today the surgery includes braiding of the tendon to make it stronger, as well as a vastly improved reattachment technique. There’s far less of a chance of stretching.” Mullen went on to say that it would be the surgery he’d chose for himself.

Can you guess how many surgeries these girls represent?

The athletic trainer at Sabino High School, Connie Rauser, who conducted a drawer test on Willow and used her knee as the subject of one of her sports medicine classes, was, like Dr. Tucker, certain of an ACL tear. She, too, recommended the hamstring replacement surgery.

Finally, it was Willow herself who decided hamstring was the way she wanted to go. And as she so often will remind me that this is HER life, in the case of her torn ACL and replacement surgery, she was quick to point out as well that this was indeed, HER knee.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

ACL Diary: Making Choices

"Someone, Please Tell Me What To Do!"
One of the complications of living in the United States, and I’ve often made this observation when facing a big decision, is that there’s far too much choice. I may have first had this feeling when doing something as trivial as walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Looking at an overwhelming wall of some 500 choices of commercial brands alone—and who knows how many generic—more often than not, I still end up choosing the tried-and-true yellow box of Cheerios.

There aren’t as many orthopedic surgeons in Tucson as there are brands of cereal; however, I’d say there are at least a hundred, and since we know several girls who had torn their ACLs and had repair surgery, personal referrals were quick to arise. (By the way, EVERYONE thinks his/her surgeon is a rock star!)

When considering credentials, you must decide whether or not your child should still see a pediatric surgeon, and this may be based on the state of her growth plates. The x-rays we took at Urgent Care showed that the legs of my 16 year-old, 5’-9” daughter would not grow any longer—growth plates decisively closed—and therefore we chose to treat her as a “level one athlete” rather than a child. This led us to consider surgeons specializing in sports medicine. And naturally, we wanted a surgeon who’d already accomplished many, many ACL repairs.

One of the surgeons whose name was high on our list—we knew two girls who’d recently been his patients—had an early afternoon cancellation two days after Willow’s injury. Wanting some immediate answers, we jumped on that appointment. Dr. Tucker (and his fellow), each gave Willow what’s known as a “drawer test,” to determine the nature of her injury. Tucker was certain he was looking at another torn ACL, but regardless, he gave Willow odds prior to scheduling an MRI.

This was her Facebook status update after the appointment.

Soo 75-90% chance it's my ACL. in my mind that means 10-25% chance it's not. 

Willow didn’t beat those odds, bless her heart. And as a result, we had to make another major decision, and that was what type of ACL repair surgery we wanted to use. And this was, perhaps, the most difficult choice we had to make.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

ACL Diary: The Immediate Aftermath

A Hundred Phone Calls
Willow and I sat for about an hour in the Urgent Care waiting room on the Saturday afternoon she went down, and our dear friend, Mike Smith—my sometimes second (soccer) husband—brought Willow a burger and a chocolate shake. It turns out that it was the most food she’d eat for the next several weeks. The minute she started taking painkillers, she booted her food and lost her appetite.

Urgent Care can only do so much, especially on a Saturday when doctors aren’t on staff. A kind nurse named “Jim-bo” saw to her x-rays and put it in writing that there were no broken bones, and that he suspected an ACL tear. He didn’t know that an explanation of the injury wasn’t necessary, but—bless his heart—he told us a lot of things we didn’t really care to hear.

The minute we got home, the phone calls began. This means I both made them and answered them. I didn’t cry until I spoke with my pal Stephanie Hunley, who it might be fair to call my soccer wife. Actually, she’s that soccer mom—that best friend—we soccer moms make when our kids are so involved with a team that it practically takes over our lives. We have vested interests in each other’s kids, and love them like our own. We understand our kids’ health and the way they perform on the field has a direct impact on the success of the team.

“Can I lose it now?” I asked her.

“Go right ahead,” she said, and allowed me to talk through my fear and my tears.

It was a momentary, necessary lapse, and once I got it out of my system, I went into research mode. I needed to figure out HOW we were going to handle this injury.

One of the first calls I made was to my friend, Gillian Borden, because we go to the same church and I wanted her to get Willow on the Sunday morning prayer list. (I knew we needed all the strength-to-get-through-this power we could get, and for me, this is what prayer is all about.) I had forgotten that Gillian is married to a physical therapist and had a lot of information about local, reputable orthopaedic surgeons. Additionally, she lives across the street from my former soccer wife/soccer mom and co-manager of a club team, whose daughter also suffered an ACL tear back in October. I scribbled furiously as Gillian provided names of surgeons and other necessary information. She was my angel and Gillian, please know how grateful I am to you.

The next day, Sunday, Willow and I drove to Casa Grande to watch her teammates win their second State Cup Game. Although they were now in the loser’s bracket, it’s a double-elimination tournament and all was not lost with the first game the day before. Meantime, soccer mom, Maureen Shields, gave us a handicap parking tag for our car so we could park right next to the field and she allowed me to cry on her shoulder before the game.

Willow didn’t cry until after the game—until she realized how hard it would be to sit on the sideline and watch rather than be out there contributing.

In spite of the victory, it was a long ride home.

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ACL Diary: And So Begins the Rehab

Thursday, April 28, 2011
From the moment my daughter went down on the soccer field, my guts told me what we’d be facing. But there wasn’t any way to truly prepare for the emotions her ACL injury would invoke. It has been just shy of a full lunar cycle since the incident—26 days—only one week out of surgery, and already I feel like a seasoned veteran of the course that is the treatment of an ACL injury.

Since 220,000 female athletes under the age of 21 face this specific injury each year, and I have personally now witnessed too many of these plant-twist-pop-collapse episodes to count, I believe it’s important to document our experience. Those with children who have torn their ACLs will relate and empathize, and those who are at the very beginning of this journey toward repair and rehabilitation will hopefully appreciate and learn from our experience. (ACL stands for Anterior Cruciate Ligament, which is one of the four major ligaments in the knee). And if you're the parent of an athlete—especially a soccer or basketball player—please take note of the statistics and add ACL prevention training to your kid's regular workout.

We are filled with gratitude for so many friends who have helped us through the process so far. For a while, it seemed as though a day didn’t go by where I didn’t hear from or learn of another young athlete who had torn his/her ACL. It’s sad how many we know, but also knowing we’re not alone has been healing in itself.

First of all, in case you haven’t been on the sidelines of a thousand soccer games, I’ve compiled a very brief video with three examples of the typical defensive move made by Willow (#24) during any given game, which was the same move that led to her injury. These clips show her chasing down the ball and/or offensive player with the ball, successfully taking possession and changing direction.

This next video, which is still painful for us to watch, shows the same sort of run up the sideline, but this time Willow was NOT successful. She turns on her right foot, but her left gets caught up on the leg of the player she’s marking, and she goes down. According to her surgeon, Dr. Todd Tucker of the Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, Willow didn’t just tear the ACL on her right knee, “she shredded it.”

Day 1: April 2, 2011
Arizona State Cup, Game 1
TVSC 95 Samba vs. 95 Valparaiso
Golf Links Field D, Tucson, AZ

Many of us suspected and even knew we had just witnessed an ACL injury. Team dads, LaMonte Hunley and Tony Guerrero (whose own daughter suffered an ACL tear some three years ago), carried Willow off the field and brought her to the arms of team mom/athlete, Shannah Biggan, and another teammate, the lovely Olivia Ortiz—also recovering from ACL surgery. I ran to get ice and tried to breathe rather than hyperventilate. I also called my husband, Mike, who was in Prescott with Camille and her soccer team, and broke the bad news.

When I returned to the sideline, Willow was as upset about the pain in her knee as she was about not being on the field, and letting down her Samba teammates. But there was no way Willow was going back in that game.

Samba lost 0-1.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Down Syndrome: What We All Should Know, And What We All Can Learn.

From Grief to Celebration, How One Family Learned to Embrace the Gift of Down SyndromeFrom Grief to Celebration, How One Family Learned to Embrace the Gift of Down Syndrome by Margaret Bender
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fall in Love with Alex . . . AND Gary
I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from reading this book, From Grief to Celebration: How One Family Learned to Embrace the Gift of Down Syndrome. It is extraordinarily well written from the heart of a mother with three children, including one who happens to have an extra chromosome.

The child--who is actually now a young woman--is named Alex. And through the pages of this book you'll fall in love with her. But I think even more, you'll fall in love with the author, Margaret "Gary" Bender. In these pages, Gary bares her soul. She shares every painful, joyful and revolutionary moment of her experience as a parent, and she does so not only out of love for Alex--and her family--but also out of what appears to be a need to advocate for all parents who have children with special needs.

This book must be added to the bibliography Gary provides in the chapter titled "Research," which includes a list of books she sought and read when Alex was born in 1993. If you indeed have a baby with Down syndrome, please put Gary's book at the top of your list. You will learn many things, but you will especially know that you are not alone; you will learn how to advocate; and you will learn to embrace and celebrate your child/situation. And as any parent will tell you, just like kids without special needs, our babies grow up very quickly. You will learn your Down syndrome child might not do everything like walk and talk and potty train according to what you thought was normal, but she/he will learn. And she/he will also teach YOU things you never imagined.

What makes this book additionally noteworthy for parents with and without children of special needs, is that Gary allows us to see how universal the experience of parenting truly is. In other words, I found Gary to be not only an advocate for parents of children with Down syndrome; but also, she helps us recognize and remember the individual needs of all children. In a particularly moving segment of the book, she shares the feelings of Alex's sister and brother. Her sister's college essay is well written and very poignant.

The book--a quick read--is organized according to a list of verbs that Gary believes has defined their experience. As the title suggests, the verbs begin with "Grief" and culminate in "Celebration." The verbs she uses numbered from 1-10, plus the bonus, are relatable to parenting and, frankly, life in general. I give this book my highest recommendation.

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